Is Lane Splitting Legal, and How Does It Affect an Accident Case?

Maybe you've been stuck in traffic while a motorcycle zooms by in the narrow space between your car and the car in the next lane over.

Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney

Maybe you've been stuck in traffic when a motorcycle zooms by you in the narrow space between your car and the car in the next lane over. You wonder, "Can that possibly be legal?" Or, perhaps you're a motorcycle rider and you've resorted to the maneuver (called lane splitting) yourself in order to avoid being stuck in a traffic jam behind a bunch of four-wheeled vehicles.

Many motorcyclists engage in lane splitting—the practice of riding a motorcycle in the spaces between rows of stopped or slow-moving traffic.

Is Lane Splitting Legal?

As of 2022, a handful of states have legalized some form of lane splitting. Many states ban it entirely. The remaining states don't explicitly allow lane splitting or prohibit it. Instead, law enforcement and courts are left to decide whether an act of lane splitting is unlawful under some catch-all traffic ordinance that prohibits unsafe maneuvers or risky practices.

Even in states where lane splitting is legal, like California, it's only allowed if it's done safely. And "safely" is always very much a judgment call. The mere fact that an accident happened while a rider was lane splitting is very strong evidence that lane splitting wasn't safe in that situation.

How Lane Splitting Affects an Insurance Claim or Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you have been involved in an accident while lane-splitting, you'll probably have a hard time convincing an insurance adjuster that the accident was not completely your fault. In most states, in order to get some compensation for motorcycle accident-related losses, you need to show that the other driver's carelessness (negligence) was a substantial cause of the accident. (Learn more about shared fault rules.)

How to Prove You Are Not At Fault for the Accident After Lane Splitting

A few circumstances may help you convince an insurance adjuster that the other driver contributed significantly to the accident, and that therefore you should be at least partially, if not fully, compensated for your damages. You'll be in a better position if you can show that you were riding cautiously—not speeding or weaving in and out of lanes or between cars. A police report or witness statement may help to bolster your argument here. (Learn more about records to gather after a car accident.)

The extent of your experience as a rider may also support your claim that lane-splitting was appropriate under the circumstances. Most important, however, is showing that the other driver did something even more dangerous than you're act of lane-splitting. For example, you might be able to show that the driver caused the accident when the driver made an abrupt lane change without signaling, drifted from one lane into another, or texted while driving. Again, support from a police report or witness may be crucial in convincing an insurance adjuster that the other driver's carelessness was a significant factor in the accident.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

For more tips on establishing liability after a bicycle-car accident—and how to handle your insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit—get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).

And before you file an insurance claim or lawsuit, talk to a car accident lawyer to make sure you know your options and your rights are protected. Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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